Date: November 23, 2018
Time: 8:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
How to Watch/Listen
Streaming: WatchESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMGon TuneIn Radio.
Spread: WVU +3
Haaaaaave ya watched Big 12 football this year? Would be shocked if this one didn't go over. Stay tuned for more thoughts on the spread.
Blue. Blue. Gold.
Know Your Enemy
Series History: (2-8). We haven't beaten Oklahoma in a decade. Not gonna lie, it's getting old.
Record: (10-1, 7-1). The lone blemish is against Texas, which based on the transitive property of sports victories means that theoretically we can beat them. Jokes aside, they're really good.
Head Coach: Lincoln Riley. Riley is like the Bizarro Peter Gibbons from Office Space - every year that he coaches an offense, that offense is the best offense of his life. And ours. Enjoy him while you have him, Sooners.
Offensive Coordinator: Bill Bedebaugh, Shane Beamer, and Cale Gundy. A couple of familiar names here. I actually really like Oklahoma's offensive coaching structure - they list all three of these guys as Coordinators, but all three have their own individual areas of focus. I wonder if there's a lesson for Dana to learn here that might let him get back into calling plays without losing sight of his other head coaching responsibilities?
Defensive Coordinator: Ruffin McNeil. McNeil took over for Mike Stoops midway through this season, but while he's noticeably shifted some things schematically, there hasn't been any real uptick in productivity. Perhaps that's just life in the Big 12.
By the Numbers
Welcome to “By the Numbers”!
First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.
Second, definitions for the uninitiated:
Big Play Differential (10+ yard runs, 20+ yard passes) = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)
Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin
NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position
Havoc Rate = (Total TFL + Passes Defended + Forced Fumbles)/Total Plays
You can quickly see that Oklahoma's radar profile backs up the assertion that Dana made this week that they're the best college offense he's ever seen. They lead the country in scoring, total yards, and explosive plays, and what's more, they don't just do it one way or another. On the other side of the ball though, there's no arguing that we've been better than they have against the same competition.
Two things I'm watching tomorrow: field position and red zone defense. Regarding the former, we have a decided statistical advantage in average starting field position through 11 weeks, and it's definitely in our best interest to make them drive the length of the field if we want to win tomorrow. Regarding the latter, you can see that while neither of us are particularly good at keeping teams out of the end zone once they reach the red zone, it's notable that Oklahoma is dead last at it nationally. Considering that fact and the probability that tomorrow night is going to be a shootout, even holding them to one or two field goals could make all the difference in the world.
When we have the ball..
Players to watch: DE Kenneth Mann, DE/LB Mark Jackson Jr, LB Kenneth Murray, LB Curtis Bolton, CB Tre Norwood
Defining success: Run it down their damn throats
Oklahoma's defense is a relatively unspectacular compliment to the other side of the ball. They're below average nationally in terms of points and yards allowed and they're downright dreadful at forcing turnovers, but they've actually been better than average at preventing big plays. There's no doubt that they have talent, but either due to the coaching change or injuries or this simply being a rebuilding year, that talent hasn't performed at quite the level we've come to expect over the last several years.
Up front they're probably a step below what we've seen from the rest of our November opponents, but Kenneth Mann and Mark Jackson are both productive players on the edge. They've had to deal with some injuries in the secondary, but are decent-if-inexperienced back there. The Tre's Norwood and Brown are good players at corner, and freshman nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles always seems to make plays when I watch them play. One area where they're very good though is at linebacker, where Murray and Bolton are both very active and well over 100 tackles on the year.
On that note though, if we can get our interior lineman to those linebackers I think we can have some success running the ball on them. They've given up over 300 yards on the ground twice this year, and four of the five teams that have played them tough (Army, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas) did so with the help of an effective ground attack. We need to try to do the same tomorrow, not only because our offense is at its best when the run is established, but also because it will keep Kyler and Co off the field and give our defense a breather. If we can approach the success we've had against them on the ground the last two years and combine it with some peak Grier through the air, we have more than enough to trade punches with them and give ourselves a chance to win.
When they have the ball...
Players to watch: QB Kyler Murray, RB Trey Sermon, RB Kennedy Brooks, WR Marquise Brown, WR CeeDee Lamb, TE/WR Grant Calcaterra
Defining success: Contain Kyler when things break down
I'll let Oklahoma's numbers and where they rank nationally do my job for me for a minute before we dive into their personnel: 49.5 points per game (1st), 4.2 points per possession (1st, and for context, only 25 teams in the country average over 3.0), 576.1 yards per game (1st), 8.8 yards per play (1st, and to again hammer home how ridiculous this is, only 9 teams in the country are over 7.0), 23.5% big play run percentage (1st), 18.2% big play pass percentage (3rd, finally), and 21.3% big play percentage overall (1st, and nobody else is over 20%). So I guess you could say that they're pretty good.
As for their personnel, they have NFL-caliber talent at nearly every position. Trey Sermon has stepped in for the injured Rodney Anderson without missing a single beat, and he somehow may not even be the most talented runner on the team when you consider that freshman Kennedy Brooks is averaging a ridiculous 9.9 yards per carry. Out wide they have at least three guys who will be playing on Sunday in the coming years, but the two headliners are Hollywood Brown and CeeDee Lamb, both of whom are complete receivers capable of beating you both before and after the catch. Up front, they're every bit as good as you'd expect a bunch of high-level recruits being coached by Bill Bedenbaugh to be. Everything starts though, with quarterback Kyler Murray.
The easiest way to describe the year that Murray is having is probably to just say that their offense is even better now statisically than it was with Baker Mayfield setting efficiency records in each of the past two seasons. Murray has been almost as accurate as Baker was last year and has probably even been slightly better in terms of pushing the ball downfield, averaging an absolutely ridiculous 11.9 yards per attempt. He's also a much more willing runner and effective runner than Mayfield was (104 carries, 739 yards, 10 touchdowns), which has certainly added another dimension to their already stupid offense. And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes, those rushing numbers would all lead our team despite ranking just third on Oklahoma.
In my opinion, Murray is where our focus needs to be, and specifically, containing him when things break down. Oklahoma is so good and so balanced that really we can't expect our #Dawgs to do much more than make them work for it, but one thing we absolutely have to do is keep playing hard and win the plays that we've won, if that makes sense. What I mean by that is, they're going to hit their big plays, but if we call a blitz at the right time and get two guys with free runs at Murray, we have to get him on the ground. If we rush three and lock them down in coverage on a 3rd and 11, we cannot let him scramble for 12. Win the plays we've won. If we do that, we have a fighting chance. If we don't, and he's able to scramble around and buy time and do the Mike Vick thing, it's going to be a very long evening.
Defining Success: Cover our butts off
Oklahoma has very good specialists pretty much everywhere, but we need to be especially sound on punt and kick coverage this week. Both of their guys back there are home run hitters, and allowing a big return in this game, let alone consistently decent field position, would be backbreaking.
Allow me to bare soul, gang.
The last 5 days have been an emotional rollercoaster. The tentative satisfaction that I felt through the first half of the Oklahoma State game Saturday quickly gave way to nervousness and then disbelief as our lead (and our CFP dreams, fleeting though they were) bled away with the 2nd half clock. Saturday night was a bourbon-soaked blur of quiet grief broken only by intermittent ranting at no one in particular. On Sunday I was simply numb, unable to really engage with anyone or anything (shout out to my wife who continues to be a super hero for tolerating my lunacy). When I awoke on Monday though, the detachment had been replaced with a palpable level of disgust and resentment, feelings born of a lifetime of daring to dream despite repeatedly being punched in the gut for it.
And that’s not to say that I am disgusted by or resentful of our football team, far from it. I will always love and support the Old Gold and Blue. But I am disgusted by and resentful of the all-too-familiar situation that we’ve put ourselves in here.
You see, we have a good football team this year. Very good actually. Say what you want about the record, I don’t care - I will die on the hill that this is the deepest, most talented Mountaineer team that I’ve seen in my 25ish years of remembering watching football. Will Grier is the best quarterback we’ve had here in my lifetime (and I don’t say that lightly). McKoy, Pettaway, and Leddie have all gone over 100 yards in a game this year, and we have two more guys that I’m comfortable giving the ball to. Sills and Jennings are as productive a 1-2 punch as any we’ve had here, and Simms is arguably more talented than both of them. Trevon Wesco actually catches passes. McKivitz and Cajuste are both All-Conference level tackles. That’s a whole paragraph already and I haven’t even gotten to the defense, which with guys like Long, Bigelow, and Stewart has it’s fair share of ability, as well.
That’s what makes this so frustrating. This team, with all that talent, has now lost to stupid Iowa State in stupid Ames with a true freshman making his second career start at QB, and stupid Oklahoma State that we had down 17 at half before turning into a begging-to-be-come-back-on conservative shell of ourselves. This team that has absolutely overwhelmed some pretty decent football teams at times this year has now somehow lost two games to objectively inferior opponents. Disgusted by it. Resentful of it.
And now comes Oklahoma. I generally don’t mind Oklahoma and certainly respect the body of work, but the Sooners are about to walk in here, into our goddamn house, carrying the banner of the conference - like always, awaiting their coronation - like always, and we still haven’t beaten them in conference, and I’m disgusted by and resentful of all of it. I’m tired of being the friendly, welcoming hillbillies that everyone’s happy to get along with because, well, shucks y’all, we’re just happy to be here anyways. I don't even care about the Conference Championship Game right now either. It's whatever.
Right now, all that I want in life is an early morning charge or two of whiskey to get the blood flowing. I want 12 hours of angry beers in the Blue Lot. I want moonshine. I want snowballs, and quarters, and batteries, and all the other things that people used to hate us for. I want us to take the frustration of a decade of suffering through relative mediocrity without payoff and ram it into their faces on every single play for 60 minutes, and I especially want every Oklahoma-associated human in Morgantown to have one of the worst sports-related weekends of their lives.
Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil: for the Eers art with us; thy musket and thy buckskin they comfort us. And thou doth carry the biggest fucking musket in the valley, that with it we might smite our enemies.
Circles the wagons, MF’ers. This shit’s about to go down.
West Virginia 56 Oklahoma 42